NFL UK presenter Nat Coombs on American football in the UK, and how and why you should watch it
Image courtesy of natcoombs.com, with permission of Mr Coombs.
by Tyler Arthur
It hasn’t been a particularly exciting day. No plans, nothing to do, even less to watch.
Nat resorts to flicking between channels on the family TV, aimlessly, as we all do when nothing is on. Every station provides new hope of ten minutes entertainment… 1, nope. 2, 3, yawn.
His eyes widen.
Twenty-two men, of varying shapes and sizes, wearing pads, and helmets, appear to be just smashing into one another. It is crazy.
Nathaniel’s young gaze is locked to the screen, his attention fixated on this alien sport.
Brutal, but beautiful.
That was years ago; but now, one of the UK’s resident NFL experts, Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Coombs, still has the same enthusiasm and excitement as he did in that first moment – the moment when he discovered American football.
“I turned it on by chance (in the days when watching things was less on demand, more lucky dip) and saw this day-glow, technicolour, explosive thing that I instantly fell in love with,” he recalls, fondly.
“I had no idea what was going on…”
As with many newcomers to the complex sport, he recalls that even though it was so exciting, he was initially confused.
“I had no idea what was going on – and no-one I knew at the time watched it.”
Nat, now used to be on his own, an English youngster watching ‘America’s game’ – but now, he feels much less lonely in his passion for the States’ version of football.
“Since I started broadcasting back in 2007, there has been a major shift,” Nat knows more than anyone, that the market is growing for the NFL here, in the UK. “Social media has really helped.”
Although he was able to ‘convert’ some of his friends, he suggests that nowadays it doesn’t necessarily matter if the people you go to school or work with watch and/or talk about the Sunday night matches.
“Now, games are live in this country and anyone can hop onto social media and chat away to fellow fans all over the country, [and world.]
‘That’s a major development.”
In the age of social media, we have bred a highlight culture, in all sports. This is great for American football. The ‘explosive’ nature of the NFL makes it perfect for these bitesize clips to be shared online.
Case study. Odell Beckham Jr.
If you don’t know who that is, or what he did, go on YouTube and search “OBJ catch”; that will be a good enough introduction to the sport.
It is in this highlight-heavy coverage of world events, through Twitter, and Facebook etc. that individual moments shine – and that is where people like Nat come in; with Match of the Day-esque TV shows for the NFL.
The goal of these short formats is to pique the interest of the casual viewer, but also to give a platform for new people to discover the sport – just like Miami Dolphins fan, Coombs, did all those years ago; full circle.
“Access to podcasts, and writing of all kinds online (as opposed to a weekly paper) all enables a cult/niche sport to flourish.”
And flourish is accurate, the USA’s iteration of football finds itself welcomed in London annually for a few weeks during their season, when eight teams travel to play at Wembley and Twickenham.
“I think the level we’re at right now is strong,” (five games a week televised live and four games annually hosted here), “and I think we can handle more,” Nat confidently believes. “Whether that’s a team [that plays in London] or more regular season games is hard to call.”
The sport has been on a huge upward trend in interest, and now features as the main focus of Sunday nights on SkySports – as well as the aforementioned highlights shows and radio shows in the UK.
Coombs’ enthusiasm is shared across hundreds of thousands of the UK’s NFL fans – who are showing huge support whenever given the chance. The International Series filled both stadiums in London, this year.
“I don’t think anyone predicts American football will surpass football/soccer, but if it’s a top 10 sport here, great!”
As the sport grows in this country, you can’t help but be encouraged to try it, and Coombs encourages all new people to see what it’s all about.
“For any newbies watching, I’d suggest mixing up RedZone [a highly addictive way to watch, as the broadcasts jumps from game-to-game when teams look like scoring] and watching a whole game play out,” he advises.
American football is physical, exciting and fast. It isn’t easy to understand it, and it isn’t simple to play it – but give it a go! You might be surprised.
Watch the Super Bowl, throw a football around with your friends, whatever you like.
Maybe next Sunday, after the Premier League has drawn to a close, and you find yourself with nothing to do…
Turn on the NFL, just like Nat Coombs did, and see where it takes you.
Nat anchors live NFL coverage on TalkSport2 every Sunday from 5pm, and hosts the eponymous NFL Show with Nat Coombs on Tuesdays from 10pm. You can also find his podcast here: talksport.com/NFL.